Less than a day after police found the decomposing bodies of a 6-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy in a Southwest Baltimore apartment complex, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said their mother will be charged with their deaths.
Harrison said charges are pending against 28-year-old Jamerria Hall of Baltimore, the mother of Da’Neira Thomas, 6, and Davin Thomas Jr., 8, whose bodies were found in their apartment in the 500 block of Coventry Road Tuesday.
Neighbors said they regularly saw the children playing together outside the complex, and Hall had written on social media often about both the joys and struggles of motherhood. She even featured the kids on a podcast she started called BMorE Charming.
But court documents from a 2018 arson case show Hall faced deeper challenges. They detail how she erected a shrine of family photos in her mother’s apartment that she attempted to set on fire before briefly disappearing with the children.
At a Wednesday news conference at police headquarters downtown, Harrison said officers were called to the Coventry Road apartment after a resident noticed a foul smell. Officers found the children’s bodies in the early stages of decomposition in two separate rooms. Investigators quickly sought the mother for questioning, and on Wednesday morning, during an interview with detectives, she confessed to killing the children, Harrison said.
“My heart goes out to the family members,” Harrison said. “There is nothing more difficult than investigating the murder of a child, much less two children.”
Harrison said detectives are working with the medical examiner’s office to determine when and how the children died. He said investigators also are working with Child Protective Services as part of the investigation.
“This is an unfathomable gut-wrenching tragedy,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at Wednesday news conference. “Davin and Da’Neira, who are 6 and 8, should be starting school, like the rest of the kids in the city.”
Scott pledged a review of the case to identify any agency lapses that might have contributed to the children’s deaths.
“The tragic deaths of these two beautiful young people will be carefully and very thoroughly reviewed,” he said. “We have to and we will close any gap that enables tragedies like this to occur.”
No other children were found in the home, and Hall is not believed to have any other children, Harrison said. Part of the police investigation includes determining whether Child Protective Services was providing any supervision following the 2018 criminal case against Hall when she was accused of setting the fire at her mother’s apartment.
“That’s all part of the investigation,” Harrison said.
City Child Protective Services did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Services, which includes Child Protective Services, said confidentiality laws prevent her from confirming the agency’s involvement in the case.
Baltimore Police had issued an alert in October 2018 after Hall and her children went missing, and Hall’s parents thought the mother and the children could be harmed. The three were quickly found safe in Baltimore County.
According to court records from that case, Hall’s mother and father reported that Hall set fire to items, including family pictures and mementos, after arranging them on a couch in her mother’s home. She also burned other pictures in a frying pan, according to charging documents.
The three had been staying with Hall’s parents for a night, the records show.
Police wrote that smoke detectors had been removed from the home, and those that were hard-wired had their wiring cut and backup batteries removed from the home in the 100 block of Upmanor Road.
“A frying pan was observed in the second floor bedroom that contained family photographs that appeared to have been set on fire,” police wrote in court papers. “On the first floor, a makeshift altar or shrine had been constructed on the dining table from photographs that had been removed from the home’s walls. The seating area of the sofa .. had family photographs carefully arranged and displayed on it.”
While seeking her, Baltimore police learned she had admitted herself and the children to Northwest Hospital in Baltimore County.
Child abuse investigators were called and asked Da’Neira about “the fire at grandma’s house.”
“Mommy was doing that,” Da’Neira responded, according to charging documents.
Hall was charged with first degree arson as well as endangering the lives of her children, and pleaded guilty and received a five-year sentence with all but one year suspended. She was ordered to pay $3,000 restitution for the damage to the home.
Yet later that year, Hall filed for custody of the two children and was granted it when the children’s father didn’t respond to the court proceedings. There is no indication in the court records about what actions Maryland Child Protective Services may have taken to protect the children.
“I have been sole physical custody [sic] provider of both children,” she wrote. “The father has been absent until my previous incarceration. He has tried keeping them away.”
The children’s father could not be reached Wednesday.
On Facebook, Hall posted in April about struggling with depression and how it guided her to a new business opportunity selling hemp-infused products.
“In the beginning of the 2020 pandemic I found myself going back into depression. I was not able to work because my family needed me at home,” Hall wrote. “Every month I had supervised probation office visits. I suffer from myofacial pain syndrome. PTSD always taps me on the shoulder and triggers my anxiety.”
She also posted about her children.
“My two little best friends. They perfect to me. A bond that can never be broken,” she wrote, also in April.
Other posts alluded to challenges.
“Being your mom was never easy but you can agree it was worth it. Always love you to the moon,” she wrote on June 16.
News of the children’s deaths shook neighbors.
Wardell White, 64, said Wednesday he used to see two children playing on the lawn outside the Coventry Manor building that was wrapped in crime scene tape the night before. He now suspects that those children, whom he hadn’t seen playing outside this summer, were the ones found dead Tuesday.
“I usually walk my dog every morning, and I used to see them,” said White, who has lived in a townhome near the apartment complex for 17 years. “I knew them. Then all the sudden, I stopped seeing them.”
White said he’d often let the children play with his dog Winston, and gave them pocket change or pieces of candy.
One neighbor, who declined to be named out of fear for their safety, said the family’s car was towed Tuesday. That neighbor said they used to see the mother and say hello in passing.
Recently, though, they saw her throw away several items that appeared to be children’s clothes in the complex’s dumpster. At the time, they thought nothing of it, and assumed the mother was getting rid of old items to make way for new ones.
Then, they started to smell something strange, which they chalked up to a dead animal or reeking trash in the dumpster. But Tuesday, the police arrived in droves, and they heard the news about their neighbors.
Another neighbor, Dennis Suter, said he was shocked to hear about the crime, though he didn’t know anyone involved, having just moved to his apartment in April. His girlfriend told him about the crime scene tape and police vehicles when she arrived home just after 4 p.m., he said.
”It just tears my heart out to hear about a child being killed,” Suter said. “Why were they left in the house like that?”
The discovery of the children in Baltimore city comes just weeks after two other children — Joshlyn Johnson, 7, and her brother Larry O’Neil III, 5 — were found decomposing in their aunt’s car during a July 28 traffic stop in Baltimore County.
Baltimore County Police have charged the children’s aunt, Nicole Michelle Johnson, 33, with neglect; failure to report the death; disposal of bodies and child abuse that resulted in the death of the two children. Determinations of the causes and manner of their deaths are pending, police said.
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said this week there was no update in the case.
Johnson told detectives she had been caring for the two children since 2019 after their mother moved from Ohio to Maryland and could no longer care for the children, according to the court documents. She is being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson.
Baltimore Sun reporter McKenna Oxenden contributed to this story.